Al Marsh

Have you logged “startle” time? ATP training rules make the rating costly.

September 24, 2013 by Alton K. Marsh, Senior Editor, AOPA Pilot

The new requirements from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the Airline Transport Pilot exam, as demanded by Congress after a Colgan Airways accident, will hit in August of 2014. They are focused on giving pilots more experience before they get the ATP rating, and training them in upset recovery. The rules will increase the cost of just that rating, according to one school’s estimate, to $8,500 to $12,000. I got it in 1995 for less than $2,000 just for fun from ISO Aero, now known as Aero Services in Wilmington, North Carolina. The first effect of making airline candidates take more training is to discourage those of us who got it just for fun. The second is to take smaller schools and colleges out of the ATP training market. That’s because they can’t make money now that there is a new requirement for a full motion simulator replicating an aircraft of 40,000 pounds (minimum). Those things cost millions. AOPA and others fought the good fight to keep the requirements reasonable.

In that simulator, candidates are to learn some of the upset recovery techniques. Randy Brooks, a vice president at Aviation Performance Solutions in Mesa, Arizona, said a study of 16 accidents involving upsets (extreme banks, climbs, dives) revealed the pilot did the wrong thing. “In 16 out of 16 accidents the pilot did something that was contradictory to whatever training they would have had,” he said. As it turns out, the International Civil Aviation Organization that happens to be headquartered in Canada (it is for the world, not just Canada) will recommend to the world at some point in the future that upset training extend to those wanting the commercial pilot certificate. Once again, AOPA has officially expressed concerns that the suggestion consider all the consequences. The FAA doesn’t have to follow the suggestion.

Simcom Training Centers’  Tracy Brannon said the new ATP multiengine rules “…elevate the requirements to meet the title of the certificate.” His company, where he is the chief operating officer, is planning an ATP course that will be close to the ones Simcom offers for a full type rating. A full type rating course includes 14 hours in a simulator, and the new FAA requirements for the ATP call for 10 hours. The academic part will also be very similar. He has had inquiries from airline companies interested in sending applicants to such a course.

Brannon pointed out that the new ATP rules apply only to multiengine aircraft. So, the pilots like myself who got the multiengine ATP, just for fun, can still have the option of getting the single-engine ATP that does not fall under the new requirements. Simcom has a Saab 2000 simulator that meets the new requirement for training in a simulated 40,000-pound simulator, but company officials have asked the FAA to consider letting them use less costly simulators for the Hawker 800 and Dornier 328 that simulate aircraft weighing less than 40,000 pounds. There is no word from the FAA as yet on the request.

The FAA guidelines also require that the ATP candidate demonstrate a proper recovery technique after being startled. Brooks manages to startle students while flying an actual training aircraft by distracting them. “Then we’re going to talk about things you like to do besides flying, where you live, whether or not you’ve got kids–anything that will take you out of the cockpit, thinking I’m not going to do something, and wham. You’re going to have a simulated wake vortex encounter, and you’re going to hear me say ‘recover.'” Brooks can train students to automatically recover in three 45-minute flights. The new ATP rules call for use of a simulator for situations where the nose is too high or too low.

Opponents of the new rules warned that they could reduce the supply of airline pilots. “They’re going to pay $12,000 and then we start them out in a $10,000 job,” said the owner of a North Carolina flight school. The full impact won’t be known until after the rules take effect late next summer. In the meantime, a few hours of aerobatic training can pay big benefits. Make sure the instructor startles you before you graduate.

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19 Responses to “Have you logged “startle” time? ATP training rules make the rating costly.”

  1. Brad Koehn Says:

    Removing the human altogether from normal flight operations is the only way to completely eliminate these accidents. In unusual situations the aircraft could be remotely piloted to get back on the ground.

    Ironically, the college programs that shut down due to this are getting off easy. The big airline mills are going to invest in these sims, and before they’ve depreciated they won’t be needed anymore.

  2. Kevin Collins Says:

    What if the “unusual situation” involves a failure of the electrical system, remote pilot input reception system (e.g. satellite), or remote pilot flight control actuation system that prevents the airplane from receiving or executing remote piloting inputs?

    I’m sorry, I just don’t buy the argument that human pilots are no longer necessary. I’ve worked in software development for 25 years and have been involved in many projects to make systems more fault tolerant and better at auto-recovery. One can program a system to handle some failure modes but not all, especially when multiple systems fail in parallel or series. If component A relies on component B and A is not working properly, how can one program the system to know whether A, B, or both failed?

    Having a human piloting crew on board makes the overall “system” more fault tolerant, because humans can better adapt to unusual situations than software.

  3. Jeff Says:

    Seems like all I read about is how irrelevant AOPA’s battles have become against any FAA rule change or regulation. Every time I turn around, there is another roadblock imposed that can’t be averted. AOPA still can’t even get the FAA to allow us private pilots to self-certify ourselves for our class 3 medical. I’ve been waiting several years to hear more about this and it has disappeared from anymore discussion. I came into aviation with much enthusiasm and have since found myself more and more pessimistic about the future of GA.

  4. John O'Leary Says:

    I have had an ATP since 1986 and I never felt myself qualified to fly an airliner. The ATP was always recognized by the airline industry as a higher form of flying education and most airline applicants would not get hired without it. Once hired, you must go through extensive training (ground school and sims) to take your type rating ride. If you don’t pass you are out. Perhaps the name of the ATP should be changed to Master Commercial Pilot . If you get hired by an airline and, lets say, get typed on the B-737 then you would earn the Airline Transport Pilot License with the 737 type rating. It would look like this, ATP – 737 Series 800.

  5. mani Says:

    I used to enjoy flying and training for fun as well. But I quit this year half way through my commercial ticket because the cost of fun got out of control. So I converted to scuba diving instead. Shame that, but if you cant go up, go down!

  6. Stanton Says:


    Well said. Frankly, I sometimes wonder if AOPA does anything other than complain.

    The 3rd class medical is a threat to pilot health. That’s right. A threat to health.

    Anytime I want to see a doc, I have to weigh the benefits of a professional opinion vs. the disadvantage of having to report that visit at my next FAA medical, and have the visit recorded, permanently, somewhere in the depths of the FAA. As a result, I wait and see. One of these days, wait and see is going to lead me to miss something that could have been fixed with “a stitch in time.”

    I am perfectly willing to go in for an FAA physical, and undergo tests for physical adequacy needed for piloting at that point in time. What I am NOT willing to do is have some bureaucrat in the FAA (yes, that includes the docs there) overseeing and second-guessing every aspect of my medical care, and recording the results forever.

    Meanwhile, what percentage of GA accidents are caused by physical incapacitation? It’s negligible. Yet the aggregate cost to pilots is staggering, in dollars, time and health risk.

    I don’t think I’m alone in this. And what has AOPA accomplished for private pilots in this area? NOTHING.

  7. Richard Norris Says:

    The requirement for upset training for an ATP is one of the best things the FAA has ever done! As pilots, we should be cheering that the Feds are requiring airline pilots to actually be competent in FLYING airplanes, and not just pushing buttons. There have been three fatal airline accidents because of lack of basic flying skills by airline pilots- Colgan, Air France, and Asiana. As for the price for aspiring airline pilots? They know up front what the deal is and if they don’t like it they need to quit taking those $10k jobs and let the market raise the pay for regional airline pilots, something that should have happened a long time ago. And is not being able to take the ATP for fun a serious concern? Really? This is a rating for people who want to be professionals.

  8. Alan Williams Says:

    Mr. Norris above has a point, but I believe it is wrong. Of the three accidents he sites, none had to do with upset. All three had to do with basic stick and rudder piloting skills. However, everytime I turn around someone else is advocating getting more scenario based training at the expence of out to the practice area for simple how to fly the airplane skills. We need fewer button pushing skills and more simple fly the airplane skills

  9. Michael Kobb Says:

    It seems like all the talk of this, that or the other thing drying up the supply of airline pilots misses the point, and your last paragraph hints at the problem without acknowledging it. It’s not that the rating is too expensive. It’s that pilot pay is disgraceful. Make the job pay well, and then pilots can afford the training and will be interested in the profession.

  10. Gary Stegall Says:

    Any advanced rating or training should not be made more difficult just for difficult’s sake. It has been my experience that my skills have been greatly improved by advancing to the next level, and that’s as it should be. We shouldn’t blame folks for earning a CPL, IR, or ATP “just for fun.”

  11. Daniel P. McCarthy Says:

    The best money I ever spent on learning ‘stick and rudder’ usage was taking an aerobatic course with Duane Cole. It was fun, it was exciting, it was hardly ever right side up, in fact I was beginning to think that ‘right side up’ was strange. Duane was an excellent instructor and confidence builder.
    In the late sixties I was a captain for a small commuter airline out of New Bedford, Mass. We were using new Cesnna 402’s operating to Boston, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. This was before the sitcom, ‘Wings’. That show, by the way, was almost right on, except that we had sexier aircraft with the ‘Mains’ on the wingtips. The passengers, the restaurant and airport personnel and the pilots did, indeed, know each other.
    One foggy, Nor’easter morning, I was startled mightily, when, on lift off, into the fog the left baggage door flew open and stood straight up. My first thought was ‘fly the plane’, the next was ‘keep the baggage in’ the next, ‘how do I close it’. I closed it with uncoordinated controls: Right rudder, hard, and left aileron, to slam it shut. After that, I just carried on uncoordinated to keep the door shut. Needless to say, the passengers got some comments in like, ‘why are we kind’a tipped sideways’ ;The ILS approach, to minimums, was not too difficult.
    The airlines have been fortunate to have the military, for the most part, supplying pilots for free taxpayer money. Those days are coming to an end and the days of shaking an orange tree in Florida with ATP pilots falling out are gone as well.

  12. Colin Rasmussen Says:

    To make sure everyone understands, the comment about the “ICAO in Canada” is misleading. The ICAO is not a Canadian authority but is a UN agency whose mandate is to promote safe civil aviation. They only have their offices in Canada.

    Since South Park, Canada gets blamed for everything, so I just wanted to make sure everyone was fully informed.


  13. Tom Seybold Says:

    I learned in a j-3 and Waco UPF-7 at a dirt strip on Long Island from a man named Tom Murphy. He taught WW 2 pilots in the CPT program and we learned exactly the same, spins and forced landings to the ground. Like Capt McCarthy I took aerobatic training from the Coles, Duane and his son Rolly it has been the foundation of 55 years of accident free flying …Stick and rudder skills need to be put back in the basic flight instruction sylibus.

  14. Chuck Moore Says:

    The AOPA is on the wrong side of this one. ALL pilots should be required to get upset training. Cost is secondary to killing innocent passengers, as we see routinely happen here is Alaska.

  15. Walter (Walter E. Garrard, Jr.) Says:

    “Upset” training is all well and good, IF the training is accurate, and positive reinforcement. Has a truly well qualified professional expert adequately considered the flight test data used to program the simulators? You can confidently bet that most (if not all) simulators for transport airplanes more than 40,000 pounds today do NOT contain data packages with “real” flight test data for extreme flight attitudes and airplane performance. Such data for the simulators is only extrapolated/calculated outside the narrow envelop of real flight test data. Is such extrapolated data adequate for this training? Maybe yes, within limits, and maybe no. But to require “upset” training without knowing the limits of the flight simulator could have real negative consequences. Think about it.

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